Under federal, state, and city law, it is illegal to discriminate against any person with a disability in areas of everyday life such as public accommodations, employment, and housing, among others. Discrimination includes not only intentional actions, but inactions that that result in denying people with disabilities equal access to the same services, opportunities, and benefits that are available to the general public in a place of public accommodation.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) was enacted in 1990 with the goal of providing people with disabilities equal opportunities in society. Under the ADA, places of “public accommodation” such as restaurants, hotels, retail shops, etc., that provide goods or services to the public are required to construct or adjust its physical space, as well as policies and procedures, to make sure that people with disabilities have the same access to its facilities and services as people without disabilities. The New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) and New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) have similar provisions.
The ADA defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.” Title III of the ADA “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and requires places of public accommodation and commercial facilities to be designed, constructed, and altered in compliance with the accessibility standards established by [the ADA].”
There are many physical barriers that prevent people with disabilities from accessing the same goods and services as the general public. The ADA requires that places of public accommodations make reasonable accommodations to provide access for all.
When a physical barriers exits, the law requires such barriers to be removed. For example: Physical barriers at entrances must be removed, or another accessible entrance must be created; Physical barriers in or to walkways, hallways, bathrooms, counters, and doorways must be removed or modified to be accessible; at least one accessible checkout aisle/counter must be accessible; Pathways must be wide enough for a wheelchair.
Under the 2010 Standards, even if there have been no recent construction or renovation, public accommodations must remove barriers from existing structures if it is “readily achievable” meaning without significant difficulty or expense.
Many courts have interpreted the ADA laws to include the world wide web as a place of public accommodation and therefore must be accessible as well.
Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. Common barriers to web accessibility are (a) incompatibility with speech recognition or screen reading software, (b) lack of text-based alternatives to media content, (c) poor color contrast or small text size, and (d) transaction timing requirements that do not take into account intellectual disabilities.
Federal, state, and city laws make it illegal for employers to discriminate against a qualified employee or job applicant based on a disability. Under the ADA, if an employee can perform a job with or without reasonable accommodations, then s/he is “qualified” to do the job. The NYSHRL also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for the known disabilities of employees and applicants.
Apart from the ADA, the NYSHRL, and the NYSCHRL, people with disabilities are also protected against housing discrimination by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). Not only are people with disabilities protected from discrimination, they are also entitled to certain accommodations so that they can use and enjoy their homes.
The ADA is a complex and particular area of law. All owners of a place of public accommodation should conduct an audit to see if they are in compliance with accessibility regulations. Becoming accessible might be simpler and less costly than one might think. Complying with the law can also keep you safe from the costs of lawsuits and bring in business from a significant demographic that is often overlooked. The Marks Law Firm, PC will work with your business to become compliant.